My Feelings Do Not Determine My Activism

#homophobic & transphobic violence

The other thing I wanted to say about today’s Supreme Court ruling is that the emotions I happen to be having right now are not my final word on this whole question of queer rights and equality.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are a lot of things that this ruling not only fails to solve, but fails to address. That means for some queer and trans people, today is not a day of celebration at all.

And that is okay.

I mean, it’s not okay that there is so much still undone. But it’s okay to not be happy about a victory that feels like it’s got nothing to do with you and what you need.

So I see all these posts from people that are like “Well I’m not celebrating today,” and I nod and I think to myself, “Okay.” But then I also see all these posts that are like, “If you’re happy/celebrating today then [a bunch of unfounded assumptions about your views, priorities, concerns, and attitudes].”

And that I’m just not down with, because I’m not down with telling people how to feel, or with claiming that people’s feelings are what makes them good people or bad people.

Often I see these things online about various causes: “If you’re not angry then you’re not paying attention,” “How can you even enjoy ____ when ____,” and so on. I’m deeply uncomfortable with framing anger as the only legitimate response to injustice, just as I’m uncomfortable with framing anger as an illegitimate response to injustice. Remember neurodiversity. Different people have a whole range of emotional responses to the same stimuli and that doesn’t make any of them necessarily wrong or broken. For instance, I almost never get angry, and when I do, it’s only when some specific individual has treated me badly. Does this mean I have no place in the fight for social justice?

We say all the time that you’re not a bad person if you feel sad when others think you shouldn’t be, so how could you be a bad person if you feel happy when others think you shouldn’t be? We don’t control our emotions. We control our actions.

But besides, you don’t want me to use negative emotions as the sole or main basis of my activism. You don’t want me to do that because it means that I will always be 1) prioritizing the issues most personal to me first, and 2) either struggling to force myself to have negative emotions about other things or, when I fail to do that, ignoring all those other issues. If anger is what makes injustice worth fighting, then I’m only going to fight those injustices which make me angry.

I understand that a lot of these posts are also based on the (legitimate) assumption that people are not going to act on all these other problems in the wake of this momentous ruling. And yes, unfortunately, that’s probably true of some people. Some people probably now believe that homophobia is over. But those people were never going to get their heads out of the marriage issue anyway. That was their issue. They cared about it. Now it’s over. I wish it weren’t so, but some people only care about what impacts them personally and directly.

Others of us who are celebrating today have known for a long time that this is just one battle of the war. I am not ready to declare the war a victory as long as queer and trans people (especially people of color) are losing jobs, failing to get jobs in the first place, being denied medical care, getting profiled and arrested on the streets, being brutalized by the police, getting deported, getting spat at and thrown bottles at, getting kicked out of their homes by their parents, being forced into conversion therapy, getting beaten and raped.

But feeling happy about what happened today doesn’t make my opinions (and my feelings) about that stuff any less real. There is nothing inconsistent in fighting those other battles while also crying of happiness because maybe one day I can actually marry someone I love, you know?

I want there to be more acknowledgment of the fact that people can have a lot of conflicting and contradictory feelings about the same things, that feelings do not necessarily determine political opinions (and shouldn’t), that activism can be motivated by something other than anger. It’s weird when we say that you shouldn’t judge people for having emotions in some contexts, but then turn around and judge them for it in others.

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